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The Mystery of the “Althorn (Alto Horn) Sonata” (1943) by Paul Hindemith

Description: A unique and significant composition, the Althorn Sonata by Paul Hindemith contains several enigmas and anomalies: details about the premiere remain unknown; scored for the alto horn, a band instrument of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the piece seldom finds itself performed on that instrument; although Hindemith composed his instrumental sonatas as composition exercises, for the instruments he intended to use in his large-scale works, his sonata for alto horn marks an unusual exception; the work evolves through Baroque sonata da chiesa form; a Morse code message from a Renaissance painter appears in the second movement, along with references to numerology; and, after the third movement, the horn player and pianist recite a poem, penned by the composer, which becomes musically depicted in the final movement. Hindemith’s apparent fondness, for the art of word play, proves the inspiration for enigmas and anomalies found in this sonata. The key to his mystery lies in plain sight: “Alt” translates as both “alto” and “old.” The purpose of this dissertation is to unveil to the musical world, especially to horn and saxophone players, the several enigmas and anomalies found in Hindemith’s Althorn Sonata. By exposing the nature and depth of this mystery, it will illuminate the intellectual prowess of Paul Hindemith, elevating his Althorn Sonata to a place it deserves in the horn repertoire.
Date: August 2015
Creator: Hemken, Jennifer Ann
Partner: UNT Libraries